Three Thanksgivings Critical Overview
by Charlotte Perkins Gilman

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Critical Overview

(Short Stories for Students)

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Gilman’s story ‘‘Three Thanksgivings’’ has received very little critical attention. It was first published in 1909 in Gilman’s journal, Forerunner, which may have been part of the problem. Gilman had attracted the attention of critics before. In her entry on Gilman for the Dictionary of Literary Biography, Robin Miskolcze notes that Gilman’s first published poem, ‘‘Similar Cases,’’ received ‘‘a letter of praise from William Dean Howells, a respected writer and editor of the Atlantic Monthly.’’ However, though Gilman’s earlier writings attracted critics, Forerunner was largely ignored by reviewers. As Gary Scharnhorst notes in his 1985 book, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, ‘‘Unfortunately, few critics, not even Howells—though Gilman twice sent him bound volumes—deigned to notice the magazine.’’

Part of this neglect was due to some early critics’ assertion that most of the writings in Forerunner were too heavy-handed in their feminist approach. In his 1991 Charlotte Perkins Gilman: A Nonfiction Reader, editor Larry Ceplair notes of Gilman’s magazine that ‘‘Charlotte’s commentaries ranged over a wide range of topics, but the central theme never varied.’’ Ceplair further says that this ‘‘sameness of tone’’ was most prevalent when Gilman ‘‘used a sermonizing form, as she increasingly did.’’

Following Gilman’s death in 1935, scholarship concerning the writer dried up. In her introduction in 1992’s Herland and Selected Stories by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, editor Barbara H. Solomon notes this phenomenon: ‘‘Descriptions of her life and contributions simply disappeared.’’ Solomon cites an example from 1962, The Reader’s Encyclopedia of American Literature, which includes three other Gilmans, but not Charlotte. However, as Solomon explains, in the mid-1960s ‘‘a burgeoning interest in feminist issues led historians, social critics, teachers, and students to search for the best sources about the conditions of women.’’ Gilman’s works began to be reprinted, including a reprint of all seven years of Forerunner, in 1968.

Even after the Forerunner stories resurfaced, however, they were not given as much critical attention as Gilman’s The Yellow Wallpaper (1899), her first published work of fiction. Scharnhorst divides the Forerunner stories into two categories: ‘‘fantasies with a feminist message’’ and ‘‘illustrations of women’s economic independence.’’ While Scharnhorst says that the former are usually ‘‘whimsical,’’ he considers the latter to be ‘‘contrived and repetitive’’ and says that they are ‘‘more heavyhanded, formulaic, and predictable than her feminist fantasies.’’ ‘‘Three Thanksgivings’’ falls into this second of Scharnhorst’s categories, and, based on the lack of critical attention given to the story, it would appear that many critics agree with his negative assessment. For example, in a book devoted entirely to Gilman’s short stories, 1997’s Charlotte Perkins Gilman: A Study of the Short Fiction, Denise D. Knight offers only a small comment on the story, saying that it underscores ‘‘the theme of economic independence,’’ like several of Gilman’s stories.

One of the most in-depth studies of the story was by Solomon, in her introduction to Herland and Selected Stories by Charlotte Perkins Gilman. Solomon notes that Mrs. Morrison is representative of many of the women characters that Gilman wrote about in her stories: ‘‘Sensible and intelligent, she is at an economic disadvantage as a woman in a society with low expectations for women.’’ Solomon notes additional aspects of ‘‘Three Thanksgivings’’ that are representative of Gilman’s other works. For example, ‘‘Like Delia Morrison, numerous Gilman heroines find that in addressing their own desire to do meaningful work, they can aid other women, bringing about significant and muchneeded social change.’’ One of the other recurring topics that Solomon notes is ‘‘the evaluation of possible or existing marriages from the perspective of whether they are desirable for the woman.’’ Finally, Solomon notes that the positive conclusion of ‘‘Three Thanksgivings,’’ like the ending of many Gilman stories, is ‘‘neither a forced nor a tacked-on ending. It develops from the characters’ traits and the events and has an emotional as well as a logical rightness.’’